How has the internet made us all influencers?

When did we start trusting strangers – Universal Mac Cann

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Before the arrival of web 2.0 and all its information and opinion sharing possibilities, people relied on experts or acquaintances when searching for opinions about a new service or product. This is no longer the case. A new and interesting trend is for Internet users to seek the advice of Internet users they’ve never met before.

This is just one of the many findings of the When did we start trusting strangers? study carried out by Universal McCann. The study included around 17,000 Internet users from 29 countries. The study found that rather than being passive, consumers have taken not only active, but also creative roles in consumerism. In fact, consumers have become true “consum’actors.”

The study describes a “new influencer landscape” which is characterized by three significant trends: the rise in social media, the importance of digital friends, and the proliferation of influencer channels. The study also mentions the impact of this phenomenon: an influence economy, the democratization of influence, and the new “super influencer.” Some figures to illustrate the study’s findings:

- 44% of people surveyed have a blog (compared to 28% in 2006)
- 57.5% have a page on a social network (compared to 27% in 2006)
- 42% download video clips (compared to 10% in 2006)
- 34% of users share their opinions about music
- 55% share their photos online

Internet users do not rely on just the brands to inform themselves. While 69% visit brands’ official websites, 82% prefer to search for information on a search engine or to read people’s comments on personal profiles on social networks like Facebook, for example (55%). Internet users’ preferred method for exchanging information about a product is MSN Messenger (44.5%). E-mail comes in at a close second (42.4%), followed by blogs (30.4%), and social networks (27.6%).

Conclusions

The arrival of social media has allowed millions of people to create content and publish their opinions online. Social interactions have become virtual and communication now takes place online and in writing. Thanks to social networks, we are able to “meet” people we would probably never have otherwise met in “real life.” We are also able to keep in touch with old acquaintances much better than we could before the Internet era, when we relied on the telephone to bridge the distance gap.

Digital media facilitates interaction and influence sharing (by sending links to videos, for example). Thanks to these new tools, it no longer requires huge efforts to become an influencer. The study’s most interesting finding: We trust the recommendations of strangers just as much as we trust those of our friends. We also trust information found in social media more than the information given to us by brands.

The impact on the economy

According to McCann, we are finding ourselves in an influence economy. Brands are forced to respond to numerous opinions published on the web, to become more transparent, and to open up to social media. Internet users have a penchant for music, films, and technology, but we also find the same phenomenon in a variety of other arenas like finance, housing, and insurance. Contrary to what we might think, Asian countries and countries with emerging markets are key to this development.

The democratization of influence: many individuals can become influencers, or even “super influencers. » Super influencers are very active in social media; they create and share rich content.

What are the implications for businesses?

According to McCann, brands should act according to four principles:

- Transparency and honesty with consumers, without becoming ‘hyper-transparent’
- Participate in conversations that generate discussion: create blogs, be present in social networks, etc.
- Consider every person as a potential influencer and encourage the target audience to share its opinions
- Approach new creators: bloggers, video creators, podcasters, etc.

According to McCann, it’s these new creators who will represent one of the most important forces in the years to come. Brands should try to work with them, and above all, not underestimate them. Or is that misunderestimate them?

To sum things up, this was a great study full of lots of interesting results and information. This is a must-read for brands as wells as web agencies.

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